15 March 2023

Green deal, new EU targets approved for carbon sequestration

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The European Parliament approved the revision of the regulation relating to the LULUCF (Land use and forestry sector). By 2030, the sector will have to guarantee the absorption of 310 Mt of CO2, 15% more than today. Expected binding obligations for all EU Member States

by Emanuele Isonio

European soils and forests will have to guarantee the absorption of 310 Megatonnes of CO2 by 2030. 15% more than they do today. A contribution that would help reduce greenhouse gases in the EU from 55% to 57% compared to 1990 levels. This was established by the revision of EU regulation 2018/841 relating to emissions and removals deriving from the soil, from its changes in use and from forestry. It was approved – with 479 votes in favor, 97 against and 43 abstentions – by the European Parliament, formalizing the political agreement reached last November with the EU Council of Ministers.

The new rules set more ambitious targets for CO2 removals by 2030. SOURCE: EU Parliament.

The new rules set more ambitious targets for CO2 removals by 2030. SOURCE: EU Parliament.

A piece of the Fit for 55 package

The decision has so far gone under wraps, probably because it arrived together with two other environmental regulations (the one on national objectives for the reduction of climate-altering gases and, above all, the directive on the energy classes of buildings). But for the agroforestry sector, the scope of the new regulation is obviously of great importance.

Improving the sink capacities of natural carbon sinks is essential to make the EU the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 and improve biodiversity. In this sense, the contribution of the LULUCF sector is central: cultivated lands, pastures, wetlands, forest areas, plants, biomass and timber are in fact responsible for both the emission and absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere. The objective of the regulation is to set targets that lead to a progressive increase in the capacity to absorb carbon dioxide, offsetting the emissions produced. The revision of the LULUCF regulation is in fact an integral part of the “Fit for 55” package, the EU plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by the end of the decade compared to 1990 levels, in line with the European Climate Law.

Carbon sinks can help us achieve our climate goals, including carbon neutrality, thus protecting our planet from the fatal consequences of climate change,” said Marian Jurečka, Czech environment minister and current president of the EU Council. of the environment on the occasion of the adoption of the provisional political agreement reached between the EU institutions last November. “The new rules will help improve the protection and management of land and forests across the EU and fully exploit the potential for absorbing emissions. At the same time, the text ensures that the different situations of the various Member States are taken into consideration”.

The news of the “new” regulation

The new regulation provides that the current rules, according to which emissions must not exceed absorptions (the so-called “non-debt rule”) will continue to apply until 2025. In the following five-year period – 2026/2030 – absorptions will have to exceed emissions. At that point, each EU state will have to pursue its own binding national target, to be achieved by the end of the decade.

The Union target (column D), the average greenhouse gas inventory data for the years 2016, 2017 and 2018 (column B) and the national targets of the Member States (column C) referred to in Article 4(3) to be achieved in 2030. SOURCE: EU Parliament Text Adopted.

The Union target (column D), the average greenhouse gas inventory data for the years 2016, 2017 and 2018 (column B) and the national targets of the Member States (column C) referred to in Article 4(3) to be achieved in 2030. SOURCE: EU Parliament Text Adopted.

The possibility remains for each Member State to buy or sell absorption units and to use the surpluses of the annual emission allocations, in line with the EU-wide effort sharing regulation. The text also maintains general flexibility to help those countries that encounter difficulties in achieving their goals due to “natural disturbances”. Among them, forest fires, harmful organisms, the effects of climate change and organic soils are expressly indicated. To access the flexibility mechanism, however, the Member States will have to be authorized by the Commission, after submitting evidence of the presence of such disturbances.

In case of insufficient and unjustified progress, Member States will be obliged to take corrective measures. And penalties are foreseen for non-compliance: 108% of greenhouse gases in excess of the budget foreseen for the period 2026-2029 will in fact be added to the 2030 objective.

EU carbon emissions and removals, 2019 data. SOURCE: European Commission.

EU carbon emissions and removals, 2019 data. SOURCE: European Commission.

More refined data with remote sensing

To ensure that the EU target is met, the Commission will present a progress report within six months of the first comprehensive stocktake agreed under the Paris Agreement. And, if necessary, it will be able to follow up on other legislative proposals.

Monitoring, reporting and verification of emissions and removals will be improved, including through greater use of geographic data and remote sensing. This will allow for more accurate tracking of EU countries’ progress towards achieving the targets.

“In the last decade, EU carbon sinks have decreased. With this law, the soil sector will play its part in tackling the climate crisis” commented the rapporteur of the measure, Finnish MEP Ville Niinistö, after the vote. “Indeed, we now have a more ambitious target and other guarantees. They include better data and stricter reporting obligations, greater transparency and an obligation to carry out a review by 2025. This is the first law that addresses biodiversity and the climate crisis at the same time and the Member States will also have to take into account the principle of ‘do-no-significant-harm’“. This principle requires that the interventions envisaged by the national NRRPs do not cause any significant damage to the environment.

The text adopted by the European Parliament will now have to pass to the EU Council of Ministers for formal approval. It will then be published in the Official Journal of the European Union within 20 days.